Sometimes you stumble across just the right word that helps to crystallize a thought.

I previously wrote this about The Blueprint:

The Blueprint offers an assortment of fixes such as higher teacher pay, teacher mentors, Common Core standards, and new assessments.  None of these changes can substantially improve student achievement if built upon our current approaches to reading and mathematics instruction.

But in a recent post Dan Willingham provided me with just the right word for the idea I was trying to get at, which is gatekeeper.

As Dan Willingham explains, in the post and in the comments, teachers are too busy teaching to keep up with all possible research in all possible fields that may be relevant to their teaching (and, in fact, it is ridiculous to expect them to develop sufficient expertise in all potentially relevant fields such that they could evaluate whether the research and claims based on the research were sound or constitute “sham science.”)

 Teachers don’t need to learn neuroscience, or better put, teachers shouldn’t need to learn neuroscience–not to be protected from charlatans. Teachers need to learn things that will directly help their practice. Charlatan protection ought to come from institutions: from schools of education, from district central offices, and (potentially) from institutions of teachers’ own creation.

Dan Willingham also notes:

[T]here is virtually always someone in the district central office who is meant to be the resource person for professional development: is this PD session likely to be legit, or is this person selling snake oil?  If teachers are exposed to PD with sham science, the right response, it seems to me, is not to suggest that teachers learn some neuroscience. The right response is outrage directed at the person who brought the knucklehead in there to do the PD session.

I think the situation is even more complicated than Dan Willingham suggests, in that, at least in Iowa, the gatekeepers may often also be the policy makers.  This means that if the gatekeepers make a mistake in distinguishing the legitimate from the snake oil, the snake oil may be incorporated into policy.  In other words, even if teachers get better information on what is or isn’t legitimate from another source, they may still be required to implement snake oil in the classroom.

So, I think now what I would say is this:  instruction in Iowa will only be as good as our gatekeepers.

Before we focus so heavily on “fixing” the teachers, we might want to ask how well the gatekeepers in our colleges of education, our district central offices, our Area Education Agencies, and our Department of Education are protecting teachers (and their students) from charlatans?  And if they aren’t protecting teachers from charlatans, how are we going to fix that?

ADDED:  Improving Teachers:  Millions Spent, But Little Done to Make Sure It’s Working

HT: Superintendent Murley